Clerk: New county voting system more secure | SierraSun.com

Clerk: New county voting system more secure

Jill Bauerle
Sun News Service

Jill Bauerle/Sun News ServiceRussell Dawber of Penn Valley casts a test ballot on the Hart Intercivic digital scan paper ballot voting machine at the Nevada County Fairgrounds on Wednesday.

GRASS VALLEY ” Nevada County’s preference for paper ballots over touch-screen voting machines spared the county from a last-minute scramble to buy new equipment six months before the February 2008 election.

Nevada County Clerk-Recorder Gregory Diaz on Wednesday commended the local committee made up of citizens and former Clerk-Recorder Kathleen Smith that recommended the county’s new voting system, purchased from Hart Intercivic.

“They did a good job evaluating the vendor,” Diaz said. “We’ll probably have the most secure election ever in Nevada County.”

Diaz answered questions about the machines from people attending the Nevada County Fair on opening day. The elections office has set up a booth at the fair to demonstrate using the machines in the Main Street Center through Sunday.

The new system consists of optical ballot scanners and touch-screen voting machines.

The Board of Supervisors approved buying the Hart optical scanners for its polling stations in June. The scanners make a digital record of paper ballots that voters fill out by hand before sealing the ballot in a locked box.

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In addition, the county approved buying one touch-screen machine for each polling station ” the minimum required by the federal Help America Vote Act ” to provide accessible voting to people with disabilities.

But a University of California research team found the touch-screen machines are vulnerable to hackers ” given unlimited time and access to security codes.

Based on the researchers’ report, Secretary of State Debra Bowen last week decertified touch-screen voting machines made by Hart InterCivic, Diebold and Sequoia.

The UC researchers found the optical scanners were less vulnerable to hacking, although they weren’t impenetrable.

Bowen immediately recertified the machines and imposed a number of conditions on their use. Only one touch-screen machine will be allowed in each polling place on Election Day to provide accessible voting to people with disabilities ” basically, the set-up already chosen in Nevada County.

Bowen’s announcement had the biggest impact on the 21 California counties that use Diebold or Sequoia touch-screen equipment exclusively, according to Evan Goldberg, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office.

While some California elections officials have criticized Bowen for rushing her announcement, Diaz welcomed the new security measures, which he says will improve the county’s election procedures.

But no matter how many security measures the elections office puts in place, some Nevada County residents said they remain skeptical of electronic voting machines in general.

After testing out the Hart Intercivic optical ballot scanner at the county fair, Penn Valley resident Russell Dawber said that he was still “suspicious” of the machine.

Bowen set forth 36 conditions of re-approval for the Hart Intercivic optical scanners.

Some of the conditions already exist, and two conditions require actions by the secretary of state, Diaz said.

Only 14 of the conditions are the county’s responsibility, Diaz said. Five are new actions requiring the combined efforts of the county and Hart Intercivic.

Among the new conditions, Diaz cited expanded poll-worker training as an improvement over past policy, as well as new restrictions that require two poll workers to be present at every stage of a voting machine’s “chain of custody,” or movements from polling station back to the elections office for counting.

Nevada County resident Julia Carol, who participated in the seven-member citizen panel that reviewed voting machines in the winter, said optical scanners were more desirable than touch-screen machines because of their paper trail.

“We wanted to support having as many paper ballots as possible,” Carol said.

In addition to paper records, the Hart Intercivic machines create a digital record that makes it possible to go back into the system and figure out what the voter intended in the event of a dispute, Carol said.